As Ricky Fox, NYPD detective, players will explore the world of Echoes Episode 1: Greenhearth. Set in a small town, the story of Echoes revolves around the apparent suicide of Ricky’s close personal friend, Arthur Petrovski. Unsatisfied with the conclusions law enforcement made about his friend’s death, Ricky feels compelled to conduct his own investigation. Echoes was developed by Nova-box and is available on the iPhone, iPad and iPod devices.
Echoes features black and white graphics that do little to add to the overall mystery and content of the game. Instead, they highlight the lack of detail and generic style of the characters and settings throughout the game. Far from being Film Noir, Echoes’ graphics seem more appropriate for a YouTube video albeit a professional looking one. Little besides the italicized internal dialogue of the main protagonist and storyboard feel of the graphics can be attributed to comic book influences. While the lines are clean and lack of color keeps gamers from being distracted by inconsequential details during investigations, items that must be found in order to win the game often blend into the scenery as there is little to distinguish them from other environmental details. One notebook or receipt looks like any other in Echoes with no glow or highlighting feature to make clues stand out when scrolling over an essential object. Most frustrating about the graphics of Echoes is the reference to things the player never sees. Midway through the game, Ricky waxes poetic about his posh hotel room. During his poetic musings does the player see the hotel room? No, instead, behind one of a handful of illustrations of Ricky (characters are not animated and seldom move) is a blank charcoal colored background.
The story of Echoes plays out through a combination of dialogue boxes containing either Ricky’s internal dialogue or interrogation questions and answers. Unfortunately, little detail about the characters critical to the investigation of Arthur’s death is revealed during Q&A sessions. For a mystery game, there is a stunning lack of insight into the motives the townspeople of Greenhearth would have for killing Arthur. Clues found by Ricky during investigations do little to illuminate details of the case and mostly serve as a reason for Ricky to ask the townspeople more questions. It is difficult to develop any emotional tie to the story or the characters in it due to the lack of plot development.
The gameplay of Echoes is more complex than it initially seems. When interrogating suspects in Arthur’s death, players are provided with a list of questions to select from based on clues uncovered at story locations and from other suspects. Unfortunately Echoes fails to properly set-up it’s gameplay mechanics in-game and players may not initially know that questions must be asked in the correct order for additional clues to be revealed. Clues can also be found by searching story locations.
Echoes features four searchable locations, two available only near the end of the game and only for a brief window of time. Searchable locations are near to moot offering few clues and no indication of what the player should look for. Locations would glitch periodically leaving Ricky unable to pan around for further search and making it necessary to leave the location and come back or exit the game entirely. Should a player fail to obtain all the clues necessary to completing Episode 1’s investigation, a brief message will pop up stating that Ricky failed and must restart. No hints are given of what to do differently or the best interrogation style for each character making Echoes gameplay frustrating for those that actually want to beat the game. In regards to the actual clues given, players are unable to later or further examine those clues or re-read letters for potential hints on how to proceed with the investigation.
Most games or apps that set pricing higher than $.99 feature more than the usual graphics, content and options. Echoes’ price is deceptive especially versus other games in it’s class. Titles in the Puzzle Agent series also retail for $2.99 but a compelling and interesting plot, fantastic voice work and challenging puzzle-based gameplay make those titles worth the money. Other critically acclaimed mystery games such as The Door are cheaper or free-to-play but still boast better content, storylines and interesting gameplay mechanics. In addition, the game is extremely short due to lack of content and locations. Providing barely an hour of gameplay from start to finish, Echoes could be completed while waiting in line at the DMV though it would probably not make the experience much more enjoyable. In terms of replay value, what replay value? While asking different questions may elicit different responses from suspects, playing through the game multiple times does little to shed further light on the story and opens up no additional options or bonus features. There is one mode of gameplay and that mode does not allow you to skip through the loads of prologue at the beginning of the game.
Echoes has two redeeming features, it’s music and the ability to fast-forward the dialogue. The soundtrack of Echoes draws it’s inspiration from classical music and the mystery genre. It is haunting and melodic and beautifully composed. Also, though there is no option to skip dialogue, it’s refreshing for faster readers or gamers completing multiple playthroughs to be able to fast forward the dialogue as this is often not an option in mobile games. Neither of these features presents a compelling argument for purchasing or playing Echoes. It’s lack of content, low-budget graphics and generic gameplay make Echoes feel more like a demo than a full-fledged game and it’s overarching storyline while occasionally interesting provides little by way of entertainment.